German Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed to cap Germany’s refugee intake at 200,000 new arrivals a year.
The deal was struck after 10 hours of closed door discussions between Merkel’s conservative bloc and came with a significant caveat: even if Germany were to reach its new cap, authorities won’t turn people away at the border.
The new cap — carefully never called an “upper limit” — will only affect the number of people accepted for humanitarian reasons including refugees, asylum seekers and their family members, but does not include those who are deported or voluntarily depart.
Despite a political alliance between Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the two have radically different migrant policies with the CSU long pushing for a refugee cap. The new agreement comes just two weeks after a national election where the CDU/CSU had its worst performance in 70 years and the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) received 13% of the vote.
Despite facing political pressure after opening Germany’s borders in 2015, Merkel has always pushed back against any sort of limit to refugee arrivals. She previously called them unconstitutional because the German constitution guarantees the right of asylum to those facing political persecution.
During the election campaign in July, Merkel said on national television: “On the issue of an upper limit, my position is clear. I won’t accept one.”
The new guidelines also declare Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia as “countries of safe origin”, meaning Germany will be able to return asylum seekers to those countries more easily, and centres will be created to house asylum seekers until their refugee status is determined.
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